Manchester United’s Spanish midfielder Juan Mata (2L) scores the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Watford at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on February 11, 2017.
Lindsey PARNABY / AFP
Juan Mata and Anthony Martial helped Manchester United extend their brilliant Premier League form as they outclassed Watford in a comfortable 2-0 victory at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Jose Mourinho may have a reputation as a defensive manager, but that accusation could not be made during this contest as United were wonderfully entertaining from start to finish.
With an attack containing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitayran and both goalscorers, United had class to spare and Walter Mazzarri’s Watford had no real answers.
Mourinho will be particularly pleased with the return to form of Martial, a player who has blown hot and cold recently following speculation about his future.
United’s impressive league form has seen them go unbeaten since their humiliating 4-0 reverse at leaders Chelsea on October 23.
They now trail fourth-place Manchester City by just a point ahead of their derby rivals’ trip to Bournemouth on Monday.
Watford arrived in Manchester confident, however, after consecutive wins over Arsenal and Burnley.
United had the best of the opening moments, but clear-cut chances were a rarity early on. That was to change.
Antonio Valencia’s deflected cross fell to Ibrahimovic 12 yards out after 60 seconds, but he mishit his volley, while a jinking run from Martial had Watford worried until his shot deflected wide.
Watford were clearly up for the fight as Jose Holebas and M’Baye Niang targeted Valencia on United’s right flank and repeatedly ran through on David de Gea’s goal, but could not make it count.
After 17 minutes, Paul Pogba nearly opened the scoring with a fine effort from 25 yards that Heurelho Gomes managed to brilliantly claw away at full stretch.
– Twisted the knife –
United slowly turned up the tempo and had three brilliant opportunities as Watford began to sit back, a tactic that can prove fatal at Old Trafford.
Firstly Ibrahimovic volleyed over following a fine ball from Pogba before the Frenchman almost scored himself, volleying Valencia’s low cross goalwards, only for Gomes to produce another smart save.
The best opportunity, though, fell to Mkhitaryan, who blasted over from Mata’s intelligent pass, much to Mourinho’s dismay.
It felt like Watford’s resistance had to break and so it proved.
With Mourinho imploring the home crowd to chant more loudly in support of his side, Gomes produced a stunning close-range block from Ibrahimovic before Mata broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute.
Martial ran Watford ragged down the left and his pinpoint pass gave Mata an easy tap-in from four yards out for his ninth goal of the season.
Watford somehow reached half-time just a goal down, but Mourinho’s men continued where they had left off after the interval as a Martial effort just went wide of the far post 60 seconds into the second half.
Martial did a little better on the hour, grabbing his side’s second goal as United twisted the knife.
In the blink of an eye, Ibrahimovic fed Martial near the halfway line and he ran through on goal, took his time and then beat Gomes at his near post through a thicket of defenders.
After the goal Watford actually improved as they chased the match and Daryl Janmaat should have halved the deficit with 20 minutes to go, only to blast wastefully over from 12 yards out.
It summed up Watford’s afternoon as United closed up at the back and ran down the clock with ease.